By Dr. Eddie Valenzuela

Using a Cleanser with Salicylic Acid, Is it Safe?

There are many a cleanser with salicylic acid on the market. Salicylic Acid is found in a variety of over-the-counter (OTC) skin products to help treat common skin issues like acne and dandruff. Adolescents commonly will use a cleanser with salicylic acid as a face washes when they have acne. Salicylic acid can be great for warts removal too. Another type of cleanser, that may not come to mind immediately is none other than shampoo. Many shampoos contain salicylic acid, for dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis. Many of these are clearly labeled and are thus labeled as an OTC product, but some cradle cap shampoo’s contain salicylic acid and you would not know it unless you scanned the entire 6 point font ingredient list.

Is using a cleanser with salicylic acid safe?

When used appropriately, yes. However, if it is overused or used on those with sensitive skin, it can cause skin irritation and dryness. Children are especially at risk for the negative side effects of salicylic acid and for this reason we avoid using this ingredient in our products.

What is salicylic acid?

Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid, which means that two carbon atoms separate the hydroxy part of the molecule from the acid part. This specific structure makes salicylic acid oil-soluble rather than water-soluble.

Because salicylic acid is oil-soluble, it can get through the skin’s fatty lipid layers, allowing the product to work deeper in the skin rather than just on the skin’s surface.

Benefits of using a cleanser with salicylic acid

Because it penetrates into the deepest layers of the skin, salicylic acid is able to dissolve the dirt, grime, and other debris that clogs pores, effectively treating blackheads and whiteheads common in acne breakouts. Salicylic acid also has anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce inflammation from pimples to help acne fade faster.

As mentioned earlier, a cleanser with salicylic acid isn’t only used to treat acne. It can also be used as a powerful exfoliator to remove excess skin cell buildup. Some psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis cosmetics contain salicylic acid as it helps to loosen proteins in the skin, so flakes, scale, and thickened plaques fall away from the skin easier.

Is a cleanser with salicylic acid dangerous?

Like many other skincare ingredients, salicylic acid can be dangerous when not used as instructed. Salicylic acid cleansers can be harsh and irritating, especially during the initial days of application. It’s recommended that adults ease into salicylic acid use, applying the product every two days or every other day to allow time for the skin to grow accustomed to it.

The biggest danger of a cleanser with salicylic acid is over-use or use on sensitive skin. If over-applied or used on already sensitive skin, salicylic acid can cause dryness, redness, and other skin irritation including:

  • Itching
  • Tingling or stinging
  • Hives
  • Peeling

Salicylic acid is also not recommended for women who may be pregnant or people who are already taking blood-thinning medications. Sun exposure while using salicylic acid may increase the risk of negative side effects.

Salicylic acid is too harsh for sensitive young skin

Salicylic acid is not safe for use on children under the age of 2. Children are at a much higher risk of irritation from salicylic acid as their skin absorbs it much quicker than adults. Plus, young skin is already more sensitive and delicate, leaving children incredibly vulnerable to harsh skincare ingredients like salicylic acid. Read ingredient labels.

As a pediatrician, I am concerned when cradle cap shampoos use salicylic acid as an ingredient. This is because salicylic acid is what aspirin is made from, and children should never be given aspirin unless prescribed by a physician. Aspirin when taken during a viral syndrome can cause a fatal condition called Rye’s Syndrome. While in a rinse-off format there is minimal salicylic acid absorbed, I still prefer to avoid using a cleanser with salicylic acid in a child, especially when there is broken, irritated skin that will absorb more of the salicylic acid.

No salicylic acid in Happy Cappy products

Happy Cappy does not utilize salicylic acid in our cradle cap shampoo. We make two varieties of non-soap cleanser (“non-soap” means we don’t use harsh surfactants like SLS or SLES) medicated and non-medicated. Our cleansers function as shampoo, body wash and facial wash.

One of our cleansers, Happy Cappy Medicated Shampoo and Body Wash, is a dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis shampoo that was made specifically for kids of all ages. It uses FDA-approved ingredient pyrithione zinc to help relieve the symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff.

Our other cleanser, Happy Cappy Daily Shampoo and Body wash, is an eczema shampoo and eczema body wash for those with dry, itchy, irritated, sensitive eczema prone skin.

When looking for an irritant free shampoo or body wash made for kids of all ages, we advise avoiding a cleanser with salicylic acid, as it is just too harsh.